Ontario nurses advocate for drug decriminalization in Mississauga and Brampton as overdose deaths increase 133%


Published October 4, 2022 at 3:00 pm

As the death toll continues to rise from opioid-related overdoses, Ontario nurses are asking Mississauga, Brampton and Ontario mayoral candidates to advocate for decriminalization of simple drug possession.

A total of 39 people died in the Peel Region from opioid-related overdoses in 2021 – a 133 per cent increase since 2017, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) said in a press release.

In addition, there were 873 emergency department visits and 136 hospitalizations for opioid overdoses. Peel Public Health reported the highest number of opioid-related emergency department visits on record in 2021.

In May, Peel Public Health released a report stating opioid-related deaths had risen 249 per cent since 2014, with at least 606 lives lost.

Across Ontario, an average of eight people per day died from an opioid-related overdose in 2021 – an 85 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels.

“Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal problem. Every life lost due to an accidental overdose could’ve been prevented if appropriate supports and measures were readily available and easily accessible to individuals when they need it,” says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun.

“Decriminalizing simple drug possession is a crucial step to remove the stigma associated with substance use as well as the barriers to health care that often force people to use alone.”

In response to the overdose crisis and ahead of the Oct. 24 municipal elections, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is calling on mayoral candidates to seek decriminalization of simple drug possession in their communities.

In June 2021, Ontario’s Big City Mayors (OBCM), including Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, voted unanimously in favour of decriminalization.

But only three cities in Canada — Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver — have passed motions urging the federal government to decriminalize simple drug possession in their jurisdictions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), the RNAO says.

RNAO and its members are sending letters to mayoral candidates in more than 20 municipalities with local data and information.

The RNAO says more supervised consumption sites and an expansion of safer supply programs and initiatives along with decriminalizing simple drug possession is a key to minimizing the risk of overdose and addressing other community harms associated with unsupervised drug use.

Peel Region is considering opening the region’s first supervised drug consumption site in Cooksville in Mississauga or downtown Brampton.

“Nurses have been sounding the alarm on this preventable health crisis and offering evidence-based substance use policy since before the pandemic, yet we have continued to see the number of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency visits soar due to limited or no direct services and supports and an increasingly toxic drug supply,” says RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway.

“Though this campaign, we are urging mayoral candidates to confront the impacts of the overdose crisis in their cities and to take action upon election.”

For more information on the decriminalization campaign visit RNAO’s dedicated web page.

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